For the first time in history, Louth County Council councillors risk having their statutory powers removed and being removed from office after 75% of them voted against accepting the local authority’s 2018 budget at a meeting on Monday evening.
Of 28 councillors present, 21 voted against the new budget as presented to them by the council. Just seven – six Fine Gael councillors and one Labour representative, Pio Smith – voted for it. Four Ardee Municipal District councillors voted against the budget, with just two opting for.
As per the Local Government Act, if councillors fail to adopt a council budget, they risk having their statutory powers removed. The decision on how to move forward now rests with Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy – and not with the councillors. He will now decide whether to give Louth CoCo additional time to pass the budget or to dissolve it altogether.
The Local Government Act reads: “The failure to adopt a budget and determine an annial rate on valuation is a clear contravention of council’s statutory functions.
“In such a case where the budget meeting has closed and the members of the local authority have not adopted a budget, the Minister, by order can remove from office the members of a local authority if and whenever a local authority refuses or wilfully neglects to comply with any other express requirement which is imposed on it by or under any enactment including this Act (Local Government 2001).”
At a fiery meeting yesterday, a vote on an adjournment to the budget wasn’t passed before the three-quarters majority voted the budget down.
Speaking to ThisIsArdee.ie, Indepdendent councillor Jim Tenanty confirmed he voted against the budget in protest of plans by the council to increase the commercial rates in Ardee by €1 – from €57 to €58. The council proposed no change to the rate in Dundalk and Drogheda, which stands at €60.
The council say they are continuing the process of realigning the rates over the county to bring all rate payers to the same base rates. “I couldn’t see the rates increased,” Tenanty said. “It’s not fair. People can’t afford to pay. I said there’s no way I’m voting for this budget.”
Councillors used the budget meeting for 2018 to air their continued and sustained grievances with the management of the council. Tenanty says Monday’s vote was “a vote against the top table” and represents the “”total disillusionment” councillors have.
“There is a negitivity towards the councillors, we have no say,” Tenanty said.
Drogheda councillors, including Labour’s Paul Bell and Independent Kevin Callan, voted against the budget after the council proposed reducing their annual €75,000 by €15,000 – to €60,000. Callan also said he wanted the local authority to restore plastic recycling collections in the county.
Fine Gael concillor Dolores Minogue was one of just seven – and one of only two Ardee Municipal District councillors – who voted for the budget. She told ThisIsArdee.ie that she felt a protest vote was “not right.”
“Nothing is getting done,” she said. “There’s elements of the budget that I don’t agree with and I have issues with some of the budget but I can have a mature conversation and come to a resolution with officials and the chief executive. I support footpaths, roads, Tidy Towns, libraries. We’re local politicians and we’re voted in on a democratic process to work for the constituents.”
Asked what a dissolution would mean for the area, Minogue said: “It will be a disaster for Louth, we were elected and it’s for five years. All 29 councillors will be finished if the council is dissolved. I hope, for the sake of the council, the Minister gives us the seven days.”
Speaking to LMFM Radio this morning, Louth County Council cathaoirleach and Ardee Municipal District councillor Colm Markey said the future of Louth County Council lies in the hands of Minister Murphy and he expressed his hope that the Minister came to a “good sense” decision and return the vote to the members.
“There is a real possibility that the council could be abolished. We want the opportunity to have a further conversation about that, in terms of trying to agree a budget,” he told The Michael Reade Show. Markey also expressed his belief that a budget could be agreed on – before the Minister would have to appoint a Special Commissioner.
Markey joined his party colleague Minogue in voting in favour of the budget. Tenanty, along with Sinn Fein duo Pearse McGeough and Tom Cunningham voted against it, as did Liam Reilly. Fianna Fail’s Emma Coffey was absent.